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Each of our stories strengthens the chronic illness community

A photograph of Melanie smiling. She has dark blonde hair and is wearing a blue shirt. She is sitting behind a laptop at a desk.

My lived experience of chronic illness

In 2018, I began experiencing all kinds of painful, life-altering chronic illness symptoms — like debilitating fatigue, widespread pain and weakness, brain fog, and flu-like symptoms. Sometimes I was so unwell I couldn’t even leave my bed. Every area of my life was affected, including my relationships and my career. As my health and mobility declined, so too did my mental health.

I struggled to cope with my feelings as I experienced all these big changes in my life. I sought out help from medical practitioners and allied health clinicians. Sometimes they gave me labels for what was happening in my body which helped. But, like many other disabled people have discovered, what I found was not always helpful. In fact, at times, I experienced the opposite. 

There is one particular appointment that had the biggest impact on me. I was misunderstood and experienced gaslighting from a specialist doctor. After I explained my physical health symptoms, their responses left me feeling dismissed and it seemed they were blaming my symptoms on my weight and lack of movement rather than an underlying health condition. They wrote in their referral letter to my GP that I was confused because I had done research into my symptoms and conditions — that I was depressed because I cried during the appointment. Instead of feeling supported, I left frustrated and questioned the validity of my diagnoses. 

The moment I knew I had to start my business

At this time, I had been considering combining my Master of Counselling from Monash University and my experiences in teaching, disability support and student welfare work to start my own business. After my experience of medical gaslighting left me feeling alone and unsupported, I knew what I wanted to do. I launched Melanie Foulkes Counselling in order to create the kind of therapy space I had needed, where people with similar experiences might have a chance to feel safe, listened to, and validated. Each of our stories strengthens the chronic illness community. Now when someone I support tells me that they feel heard instead of dismissed, I’m grateful for the privilege of being one of the people that validates those stories.